The Origin of the Baltic-Finns

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Volume XLIII Number 2, Winter 2002
The Origin of the Baltic-Finns from the Physical Anthropological Point of View

Markku Niskanen1
University of Oulu, Finland
The author provides a comprehensive analysis of the physical anthropology of the Finns and Saami, comparing them with other Scandinavian peoples and contrasting them genetically with the Mongoloid peoples of Asia, notwithstanding the affinities which  link the Finnish language with the Uralic and to a lesser extent the Altaic languages. He concludes that both the Finns and the Saami are genetically Caucasoid or European, and that the Finns especially are closely akin to the other North European peoples of Scandinavia.

It is impossible to reconstruct the origins of ethnic groups without information about their genetic relationships. This information provides knowledge about inter-population contacts, assists in determining the geographic areas of origins of the populations in question, and sometimes even reveals how long these populations have lived in their present territories. Therefore, these reconstructed genetic relationships can be used to test hypotheses and theories of ethnic origins based on linguistic and/or archeological evidence. In this article, craniometric and nuclear DNA data, as well as the findings of recent studies of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal DNA variation are used to determine whether the origin of the Baltic- Finns is better explained by the traditional migration theory or by the more recent settlement continuity theory. These two competing theories are reviewed briefly below.

This publication describes the Finns as typically European, and attributes their ‘Mongoloid characteristsics’ to retaining features from Upper Paleolithic Europeans. This really an ‘all you ever wanted to know about Finns’ paper.

Strong cheekbones and flaring zygomatic arches of many Finno- Ugrians, commonly and erroneously assumed to be Mongoloid features, are actually inherited from European Cro-Magnons (Coon 1939, Niskanen 1994b). These two “Paleo-European” features have survived especially well among the Finno-Ugrians of northern Europe because, as the archeological evidence presented by Zvelebil (1986) indicates, the subsistence transition from foraging to farming occurred more recently and with a lesser influx of immigrants in these marginal regions for agriculture than further south. Most other Europeans have been farmers for so many generations (eating soft bread, porridge, etc.) that their cheek bones (which provide attachments for the masseter muscle) have reduced in size in comparison to other parts of their facial anatomy.

Figure 2. Plot of sample means of the first (CAN1) and the second (CAN2) canonical discriminant function scores computed from c-scores of 42 craniofacial measurements. These two scores explain 70.04% of the total variance. CRO = Cro-Magnons, IRI = Irish, SCO = Scottish, ENG = English, SWE = Swedish, FIN = Finnish, SAA = Saami, GER = German, FRE = French, CZE = Czech, and RUS = Russian. This is the same set of variables than the one used to calculate Mahalanobis distances of Table 3 except that none of the raw measurements were used to compute indices.

Figure 1. A mirror image of dimension coefficient plot extracted from Mahalanobis distances between the European samples of Table 3 using the MDS-procedure. BRI = British (pooled English, Scottish, and Irish), NOR = Norwegian, SWE = Swedish, FIN = Finnish, SAA = Saami, GER = German, FRE = French, CZE = Czech, and RUS = Russian. Modified from Niskanen (1994a).

He also says..

These craniometric analyses demonstrate that the Finns (and presumably other Baltic-Finns) and Saami (although they form their own subset within the European set) possess North European craniofacial configuration with more than average amount of Paleo-European (Cro-Magnoid) features. This finding indicates that the Baltic-Finns and Saami (as well as their Scandinavian neighbors) are indigenous people of northern Europe and not recent immigrants from elsewhere (Niskanen 1998).

As it can be seen on fig 2, the Cro Magnons are an outlier to Northern European populations, but not wildly so. There being less distance between them and the Finns than there is between the Finns and the Russians.

It suggests that Finns and Saami’s don’t share a common origin, from DNA evidence.

The mtDNA studies (Sajantila et al. 1995, Lahermo et al. 1996) reveal that the non-Saami Finno-Ugrians of Europe (the Finns, Karelians, Estonians, Volga-Finns) have the same genetic origin as the non-Uralic-speaking Europeans, and that the Saami represent a unique and ancient sub-group of Europeans that had separated from the other Europeans over 10,000 years ago. Therefore, the Baltic-Finns (the Finns, Karelians, and Estonians) and the Saami do not appear to descend from a common ancestral population that lived as recently as a few thousand years ago. The genetic admixture between the Baltic-Finns and the Saami is also rather recent, but adequate enough to make the Finns and the Karelians the closest genetic relatives of the Saami.

One response to “The Origin of the Baltic-Finns

  1. Wow. I definetly need to do a DNA background check. Some of my great grandparents were French, Irish, and may be Spanish. I wonder which tribes they could have a genetic lineage to. I don’t think the Baltic-Finns as they are found more up North. But, still … Fasinating.

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